Theme Dinner: Italian

I love planning dinner menus with a theme.  Tonight’s dinner actually started with inspiration from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  He has a whole chapter devoted to how to cook veggies, and I have decided I would like to work my way through this chapter.  I hope to discover ways to enjoy veggies that I previously have not liked or have not tried before.  This chapter, of course, starts with Artichokes. 

On the menu tonight:  Braised Artichokes, Lemon Risotto and Tofu Parmesan.  Served with Chardonnay.  And water.

I first decided to braise artichokes with lemon juice and parmesan cheese.  Pat loves anything lemon (he actually eats them raw, for dessert).  So I began looking for other recipes that feature lemons, and found one for lemon risotto, which also called for parmesan.  From there I wanted to add a protein.  I’ve been wanting to make Tofu Parmesan for awhile now, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

Braised Artichokes

I love spinach-artichoke dip, but I’ve never actually cooked with artichokes before.  Clueless, and unable to find artichokes in the produce section at the grocery store, I decided to buy canned artichoke hearts for this recipe.


  • 1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts
  • 1/2 tbsp EVOO
  • 1.5 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

I began by sauteing the EVOO and chopped garlic in a skillet on medium heat.  I chopped the bottom part of the artichoke hearts off before cutting them in half.  I’m not sure if you’re supposed to do that, but they were weirding me out so they had to go.  I then added the artichoke heart halves to the skillet.

I then added the rest of the ingredients – the juice from one lemon, italian seasoning and parmesan cheese.

These were delicious.  Pat was impressed with the strength of the lemon flavor.  I was surprised by how tart they were for having used just one lemon, but I really liked them.  The artichoke hearts really soaked up the lemon and garlic flavors.

Delicious, fast, easy and covered in cheese.  My favorite kind of veggie.

Lemon Risotto

Pat and I both agreed, the risotto was the star of the dinner.  Everything was good, but it was the risotto that made us go back for seconds.  I found the recipe at Smitten Kitchen.  I love that Deb has an entire section devoted to recipes that use lemons.  She adapted the recipe from epicurious, and this is my vegetarian version (only slightly different).


  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 3.5 tbsp smart balance butter
  • 1.5 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 small yellow onions
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 1/3 cup chardonnay
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • juice from 3 small lemons
  • little bit of lemon zest

Begin by heating the veggie broth, and then cover it to keep warm while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Next, melt 1.5 tbsp butter with the EVOO.  The butter reminded me of running eggs as it melted.  Mmmm, fat.

Next, I chopped up two small yellow onions to saute over the butter/EVOO mix.  Oh, how I love onions!  I really do, but these two made me cry.

Next up, add the rice to the skillet, and let it cook dry for a minute.  Then add the wine and wait for it to evaporate.  Then add just 1.5 cups of the hot veggie broth.  You wait for the broth to be absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup of hot veggie broth, and then continue to add a half cup of broth at a time over 30-40 minutes.

After all the veggie broth has been added, you can then add the rest of the ingredients.  I added the remaining butter and cheese first, and let that melt into the rice.  It became thick and creamy very quickly.  Then the parsley, followed by the lemon juice.  I didn’t measure how much I used, but it was the juice from 3 lemons.  I must have some cuts on my fingers because they were stinging by the time I was done.  I tried to scrape some lemon zest in as well, but didn’t have a good tool to do so and gave up pretty quickly.  It still tasted amazing!

It had just a hint of lemon, but it wasn’t over-powering.  I will definitely be making this again.  Next time I make dinner for guests.  Hint,hint.  Anyone want to try some lemon risotto?

Tofu Parmesan

I have wanted to try making tofu parmesan for awhile now, and when I saw the parmesan crusted tofu featured on Running Around Normal, the pictures made me crave it even more.  It seemed like the perfect way to add some light protein to the heavy risotto.


  • 1 block of extra-firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tbsp basil
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
  • tomato sauce, for dipping

First, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then, drain the tofu and press it to get the water out.  I always do this with paper towels, and would love to have an actual tofu press someday.  But Pat would probably tell you it would be one more kitchen gadget that would wind up buried in a cabinet, only to be seen once or twice a year.  And he might be right.

Anyway, I cut the tofu in half length-wise and then created 8 slices.  A few broke in half during the pressing process.

Next, I prepared the crust mix for the tofu.  I added the panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, basil and garlic powder into a bowl.

The mixture smelled so good, I had to taste it.  Yum!  I then dipped the tofu strips first in the egg white, and then in the bread crumb mixture.  The crumbs had a few issues sticking to the tofu, so I really had to press the mixture into the strips.  The result looked pretty good.

Bake in the oven for one hour.  The hour they spent in the oven was the perfect amount of time for me to prepare the artichokes and risotto.  I flipped them about halfway through and when they were done, I topped each with a little tomato sauce.

These were delicious as well!  The bread crumb crust added a nice crunch to the tofu, making the texture not so… tofu-y (please note:  the spell checker does actually recognize tofu-y as a word).  The texture is the hardest part in selling tofu to others.  I’m still not completely over it myself, but having a nicely cooked outer shell definitely makes a difference.

Overall, it was a very nice dinner.  Lots of lemon and parmesan cheese, and the risotto was a big hit with the husband.  I’m embarrassed to admit, we rarely use our table to eat dinner.  We usually end up eating in front of the TV.  But tonight’s dinner earned its place at the table, and was enjoyed with a glass of wine.  We should do this more often!

Do you always eat dinner at the dinner table?  I always did with my family when we were growing up, but I wonder if it is different for people who don’t have children.  I would imagine that some day, all our meals will be back at the dinner table, but it’s hard to get in the habit when it’s just the two of us.


8 responses to “Theme Dinner: Italian

  1. I ate most of my meals at the dinner table with my parents when I was growing up. It’s one of my fondest memories of being a kid 🙂

  2. I can totally relate 🙂 when I used to live at home-my family always ate at the table! But now that I am in my own apartment my poor little table never gets used! When I have my own family someday I totally would go back to dinner together each night at the table! And your meal looks amazing!!

  3. That version of tofu looks good. I always ate at the table growing up. Even with just two of us in our house, we still eat our meals at the table – but just a small one in our open kitchen/family room. Our actual dining room never gets used.

    • Thanks! We really should try to eat at the table more often. When we do eat at a table, it’s always our dining room table, not the table in our kitchen. I’m not sure why, but we never seem to use that one!

  4. That dinner looks delicious!

    I don’t have children, been living with my husband for 16 years now and we are eating our dinner at the dinner table for the same 16 years. For us, sitting down, is a moment in our busy lives to catch up on each others day.

  5. I’m drooling at these pictures – I’m gonna have to try all three of those soon! And yeah, we always ate at the dinner table growing up, but it feels weird when it’s just two people. I know you’re not supposed to, but we tend to eat on the couch and pick a TV show to watch. Don’t tell anyone. 😉

    The table is something I definitely want to go back to once the kids come along – it’s a great way to keep in touch and have a little bit of family time everyday!

    • Haha, I’ll keep your secret if you keep ours! But I’m glad we’re not the only ones – evening time is limited for us, so we usually end up combining dinner and TV time too. I definitely plan to get us back to the table once we have kids.

  6. Pingback: Theme Dinner: Eat Your Greens | Racing to Thirty

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